I have a friend who parties a lot and is very promiscuous, to the point where I do not think she knows the last names of some of her partners. She makes sure to use condoms; however, I worry that her sexual habits are emotionally unhealthy. Other friends of hers have tried to roach the subject, but she only got angry with them for being judgmental. How can I tell her I’m worried about her without her lashing out?
Anna: You’re right to worry about your friend if the behavior she’s exhibiting is out of character. If she does this all the time, then you should probably back off—you may be trying to project your values about sex onto her. If this behavior really is new to her, I think that you should talk to her. From what I’ve inferred from your question, you disapprove of her behavior. Don’t go into this conversation talking about what she is doing; instead, you should be asking her why she’s doing this. An irregular sexual pattern could be the result of some other problem—that is your concern as her good friend. Remember to have a heart-to-heart, not sex therapy; talk to her about her feelings and why she’s doing this, so that hopefully she’s less likely to lash out at you. Work with her to resolve the issues she might be having in other areas and see if any change comes about then. Really though, you could just be making a mountain out of a molehill—ask your friend about what’s going on in her life, and I’m sure she’ll tell you.
Chris: While Anna is right that there is the possibility that this isn’t a huge problem, let’s not downplay the fact that, as a friend, you feel worried about her emotional health. The fact that she reacts with anger when her friends try to bring up the issue could be a sign that there are more issues than may be apparent. I agree with Anna that you should have a conversation with her, but I advise caution. If she has lashed out in the past, there is a great possibility that she will do the same to you. When speaking with her, your best bet is to stress the fact that you are not judging her or telling her to change her behavior, but rather making sure she knows that you care and that you are there to lend an ear if she needs to talk. For the moment, try to take it slow, but if her behavior starts becoming more self-destructive, I advise you to seek more professional help.
If I ask a question about my sexual activity with my partner to this column, even though questions are anonymous, do I have an obligation to tell my partner in advance that a question affecting them may appear in a public space in this paper?
Anna: Well, let’s think of it in this way: If your partner was going to talk about you and your sex life in a question, would you want them to tell you ahead of time? If the answer is yes, then I would suggest that you tell your partner after you’ve submitted your question. Your conscience should be your guide in this situation. You should also consider how anonymous you are making this question: If you’re referring to an unfortunate incident involving a Scav item ending up in an unexpected orifice, well, there are only so many people that could be. It would be considerate to tell your partner in this case, but if it isn’t obvious, because of the anonymity of this column, I don’t feel that you have an obligation to tell your partner. Another thing to consider is the level of trust in your relationship. Would this be a breach of trust for your partner? Think about these things before making a decision, especially since you’re writing to this column to make your relationship better, not worse!
Chris: If you are asking a question about an obviously specific sex practice, like getting down and dirty with Lord of the Rings costumes and handcuffs, then maybe you should give him or her a little advanced warning. If your questions are that personal, it might be better to have a one-on-one conversation instead of seeking advice outside of your relationship. However, if you are not prepared to talk about the issue face-to-face with your partner, then you should not feel obligated to warn them. Most people who submit questions do so because they are not comfortable enough to have that discussion. If you are not ready, then by all means, grace us with your wonderful relationship woes. Advice columns are supposed to open lines of communication, whether that is between you and your partner or you and the columnist. Even if the situation is embarrassing, some communication is better than none.
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